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Why Nobody Likes the Clippers: Location, Location, Location?

Roger PAnalyst IJuly 1, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 14:  Marcus Camby #23 of the Los Angeles Clippers complains for a foul against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half at the Staples Center on January 14, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.   The Hawks won 97-80.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?”

- Marianne Williamson
A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles


There are a handful of metropolitan areas with multiple professional franchises from the same sport. Chicago has the Cubs/White Sox. The Bay Area has the A’s/Giants. New York understandably pulls a double-double, with both the Giants/Jets and Yankees/Mets—and with a stretch, you can also include Nets/Knicks.

It has to be a difficult decision to bring a second franchise into a city that already has one. The most important variable to consider in the gap between actual and potential game attendance for the area, to make sure you’ll fill the seats.

Even before that, they'll need an arena/stadium to play in. Ticket pricing plays a role, as does potential for merchandising revenues. Existing franchises typically have territorial rights (there were rumblings, for instance, that the Sonics were looking at moving to San Jose—but the Warriors have a 75-mile radius of territorial rights and could have blocked such a move. That's moot now, clearly).

And through it all you can only cross your fingers that your team will be good year after year, so that people will actually show up when they play.

Despite all those variables, multi-team cities tend to be in great shape, with each team enjoying a solid fan base.

Just not the Clippers.

To be fair, the Clippers are perhaps the most futile professional sports franchise in history. Since moving to L.A. in 1984, they've had 22 losing seasons, to only three winning—and an impressive seven seasons below .250.

That’s right—their winning seasons are more than doubled by seasons where they’ve won less than 25 percent of their games. It adds up to only four playoff appearances in that span, which is about as long as I've been alive. The futility of the Clippers, however, is extremely well-documented elsewhere and unnecessary to include here.

More interesting is why, even after 25 years in Los Angeles, they don’t have any fans.

There are other under-achieving teams in multi-team cities that have fans. The Mets have fans, even though they'll never be the Yankees. The Jets have fans, despite Bill Belichick quitting after one day as the head coach.

But, living in southern California as I do, I can easily say that the Clippers don't have fans—even if doing so opens me up to having maybe four angry emails in my inbox tomorrow.

The difference, I think, is geography.

Consider:

When the Clippers moved from San Diego to L.A. in 1984, they took up residence in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. It was the Lakers' former home—they'd played there from 1960-1967, their first arena in Los Angeles after moving from Minneapolis.

In doing so, the Clippers failed to secure a localized home crowd. The area close to the arena was already established Laker country.

The problem only got worse in 1999, when the Staples Center opened in Los Angeles and became the home arena for both the Lakers and Clippers. The Clippers were (and are) now competing with the NBA Champion Lakers for Los Angeles fans, and that's just not going to happen.

Could the team's home arena really make that much difference, and even more so than the team's record? Let's take a look at some teams in other multi-team cities.

The Yankees and Mets both have followings in New York, and they're roughly geographically divided. If you live in the Bronx, you're a Yankees fan—because that's where Yankee Stadium is. If you live in Queens, you're a Mets fan, because you're closer to Citi Field (or, for so long, Shea Stadium).

That's oversimplifying, clearly, but it's true. The New York Independent Budget Office's 1998 study fleshed it out by finding that Yankees fans were more likely to be found in Manhattan, the Bronx, New Jersey, Connecticut, Westchester, and Rockland counties, and upstate. Met fans, in turn, were more likely found in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Long Island.

Chicago baseball works the same way. You're okay being a Cubs fan, unless you live in on the south side—in which case you must be a White Sox fan (maybe it's something in the water, or maybe it's because of where the stadiums are located).

And it runs even deeper than that. Consider the New York Giants and Jets—they both play in the same stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. So why do New Yorkers tend to be Jets fans, and New Jerseyans tend to be Giants fans?

Roll back the clock, and we remember that the Jets played at Shea Stadium starting in 1964—and the geographical fan division remains, even though they moved to New Jersey in 1984.

Sound like a stretch? Ask yourself why the Dodgers and Giants are rivals. Then remember that they were at one time both New York teams, sharing a cross-town rivalry until 1958 when they both moved.

That's 41 years ago—and the effects of the teams' locations are still in play.

Between 1994 and 1999, the Clippers played a handful of home games at The Pond in Anaheim, now known as the Honda Center. It was speculated that they may be looking to move full-time to Anaheim, away from the Lakers. But it didn't happen.

At this point, though, it seems like the best option. Even when the team can bring in good talent (think Elton Brand, Baron Davis, and now Blake Griffin), there's not a fan base that holds them accountable for performance. That's how Baron Davis was able to mail it in for most of the 2008-2009 season.

If the Clippers were to move to Anaheim and start over with a new look for the team, perhaps a new coach replacing Mike Dunleavy, and a new outlook on the game, the Clippers could become a relevant team in the Western Conference.

Otherwise, they'll continue to live in the shadow of the Lakers.